I live across the street from the Westgate Mall, which is awfully convenient. It's not a great mall, but it's got pretty much everything you'd look for in your average cluster of chain stores: It's got a Waldenbooks, and a Suncoast, and a Hallmark store, and an Electronics Boutique.
And a food court with the obligatory McDonald's and fake Japanese cuisine, of course.
To get from my house to the mall, you exit the front door, make a right, walk down the sidewalk and cross the street, and then walk across the parking lot diagonally until you enter the department store. This are pretty simple instructions, and even someone as directionally-challenged as I am can get there via the usual path.
There are other routes, however. My wife, if she was in one of her capricious moods, might tell you to go left at the front door, then left again at the end of the street, then left again at the end of the block, and then go straight until you hit the Dillard's. This round-the-block method would also work, and be slightly more efficient at aiming you straight at the mall - though it would be a block longer, of course.
None of these directions, however, would work for my uncle, who is confined to a wheelchair and cannot walk for more than about twenty feet. For one thing, he couldn't get down the steps in our front porch. For my uncle, he'd have to get in a car and drive, and therefore probably should stay off the sidewalk.
Furthermore, we cannot forget the joggers, who would like to get a two-mile run in before they pack on the pounds at McDonald's. Therefore, to those people I would strongly suggest making a left at the door, then a right at the end of the block, then a left at the stoplight, go all the way down until you hit the end of the road, make a right, go past Max's Delicatessen, and after you see Heinen's on your right make a right at the next stoplight. Go all the way down that road until you get to W 210th street, make another right, and jog until you see the food court on your right-hand side.
And, of course, if you're into extreme malling, you will no doubt wish to get to the mall via the trans-Siberian route, which involves driving down to the Cleveland airport, taking a red-eye to Russia, getting on the Siberian railroad until you get to the opposite side of the world near China, then taking a specially-chartered flight that takes you over US air space and parachuting onto the roof of the mall. You will, of course, need a passport and a set of lockpicks, since I'm led to believe the doors on the roof are usually locked.
All of these directions are technically correct. There is no single path that will get you to the Westgate Mall, and of course not all directions will work for everyone. (I haven't mentioned my Directions for the Agoraphobic, which involve cloistering yourself in a beekeepers' hat to shield yourself from the crowds while a trusted friend leads you round to the back entrance.) I can give you a thousand different directions - each of which will, given time and effort, get you to the Westgate Mall from my door.
But that's not what most people ask when they say, "How do I get to the Westgate Mall?"
They don't want to know "What is a way to the Westgate Mall," but "What is the best way to the Westgate Mall?" In other words, what is the quickest and most reliable method that will work for the widest variety of people?
And to questions like that, there are usually only one or two good answers.
One of the things I frequently get in my journal is, "How dare you tell me that's the way to be happy? I do it differently! How can you be so arrogant as to tell me there is only one path?"
And to you, I say, there are plenty of paths. Some of them are really likely to get people lost. Some of them involve a lot more effort than others. However, as far as I'm concerned there are only a few paths that I feel will get the majority of people to their destination quickly and efficiently.
One of the problems in America is that we want every answer to be right. To do otherwise is to make an unkind judgement that says, Boy, that chick is making her life a lot harder than it needs to be. We can avoid passing judgement - which is, as we all know, wrong and leads to Republicanism - by redefining all of our questions so that there is no right answer. For example, you can make all of my directions invalid by asking, "Well, what about blind people? They can't follow your directions because they can't see the mall to cross the parking lot!"
Of course there are exceptions; there always are. But do you want me to give every person a complex set of directions that includes a separate way for the blind, and the people who can't tell right from left, and the cool people who wouldn't be caught dead at Dillard's... Or should I try to create a set of directions that works for 95% of the people out there, then worry about the exceptions as they come up?
I suppose the directions are "dangerously simple," as I'm often accused of being, if I just handed them out to blind guys. But I kind of hope that the blind understand that their path is going to have to be different, and will ask for clarification.
The obvious parry, of course - and I can see the twitch in your typing fingers - is to say, "A ha! But Ferrett, those are directions from your house. I live in a different house. Your metaphor does not apply, and therefore your example is invalid!"
To which I say, I know. But chances are good that wherever you come from, you'll be using roads to get there, and maybe planes if you're far enough away. To do that, you'd better have access to a good car, and have enough money for a plane ticket. And be able to read a map.
If you don't have access to a car and live in Montana, it's highly unlikely that you'll be getting to my mall. Yes, there are a lot of routes that can get you to the mall from Montana, but most the convenient ones involve being able to drive somewhere and having enough money to afford gas.
There is general advice that just works - and those are the cars and savings account of the world. Try to keep a positive attitude. Exercise regularly and work out right. Be honest about what you do, and don't excuse assy behavior just because it comes from your friends. Those are the simple directions in life that work for just about everybody, and it's good stuff.
Likewise, remember that there are many paths to get places. All of them work, to a certain extent. But a lot of those directions are complicated and get people lost, and many of them involve a lot of sidetracks and needless diversions that don't help you get where you need to be.
When I write one of my posts on What I've Learned In My Life, I'm doing it because I think these are the most foolproof directions, and I believe that you live relatively close to me.
I could be wrong, of course. I often am. But I'm trying to find the best path, and telling me that every path someone uses to attain happiness is equally valid is the same as telling me that the trans-Siberian mall route is just as good as the "take a right" method.
Some paths are better. The trick is finding out which ones work for the majority of people.